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Updated FAA policy leaves city in control of Charlotte airport

Passengers walk along the ticketing concourse at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. The Federal Aviation Administration this month updated its policy on disputed management changes at public airports, a move that affirms the city’s control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Passengers walk along the ticketing concourse at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. The Federal Aviation Administration this month updated its policy on disputed management changes at public airports, a move that affirms the city’s control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Federal Aviation Administration this month updated its policy on disputed management changes at public airports, a move that affirms the city’s control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

In a document published June 6, the FAA says it will accept an application for a management change at an airport “only upon a legally definitive resolution of a dispute.” That rules out a change in Charlotte, where city and state officials have been locked in a long-running fight over who should control one of the nation’s busiest airports.

The battle for the airport emerged in 2013 when the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly passed a bill creating a new commission to oversee Charlotte Douglas. Republican-led state legislators said the move was needed to protect the airport from meddling by the city, while city officials, including Democrat mayors, called the move a power grab.

The dispute moved to the courts when the city filed a lawsuit to stop the commission from taking over. In October 2014, Judge Robert Ervin issued a permanent injunction blocking the commission from operating Charlotte Douglas, as the city had requested, putting the commission in limbo and leaving the city in charge.

“Seeking to change an airport’s ownership, sponsorship, governance, or operations is a local decision,” the FAA said, when asked about the policy guidance. “The state or local government must file an application for FAA approval of such a change. The clarification provides guidance as to FAA’s expectation that all local parties should be in agreement before filing the application.”

The FAA is overseen by U.S. Transportation Secretary and former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat. As mayor, he vigorously opposed efforts to take the airport.

The FAA said it published the notice in an effort “to clarify FAA’s legal authority and policy regarding changes of sponsorship at federally-obligated, publicly-owned airports.”

Oversight of the airport can’t change without FAA approval, and the agency has told the parties involved that it won’t evaluate requests for a change while the issue remains subject to a legal dispute.

The FAA has encouraged the parties to work together, the agency said, and has corresponded with the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the commission. In the meantime, the airport remains under control of the city of Charlotte.

In its last action in the case, the city of Charlotte sent a letter to the FAA in November 2014 asking the agency to make a ruling that would further cement the city’s control of the airport.

On Monday, city attorney Bob Hagemann said he has not received a formal response to that November 2014 letter and is studying the FAA’s new policy. The city has spent about $732,000 for legal bills and other expenses related to the airport fight, Hagemann said.

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker

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